There’s been plenty of attention focused on Bellator this week, and most of it has been centered squarely on the company’s upcoming pay-per-view offering from Madison Square Garden. Yet there’s also a very intriguing Bellator 175 card coming our way this weekend, featuring four former world champions and a collection of intriguing talents trying to work their way toward a chance at the belt. Read on for a preview of King Mo vs. Rampage Jackson, Emmanuel Sanchez vs. Marcos Galvao, Sergei Kharitonov vs. Chase Gormley, and the rest of the action taking place at Bellator 175 this Friday 3/31/17 with the online prelims starting at 7:00 PM EST.
A Clash of Egos and Fists in the Marquee Attraction
Two of Bellator’s hardest hitters and biggest personalities will collide in the main event of Bellator 175 when King Mo Lawal (20-6) squares off with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (37-11) in a heavyweight contest. King Mo has been stellar since his move to mostly-heavweight fights in 2015, as he’s gone 5-1 above his original 205 pound weight class in Bellator and RIZIN including notable wins over Cheick Kongo and Satoshi Ishii; his one heavyweight loss came in the RIZIN 2016 Grand Prix quarterfinals to rejuvenated tournament winner Mirko Cro Cop. In Rampage, Mo will be facing a man who is a lot closer to his own size than his heftier heavyweight foes have been, though expect the venerable Jackson to carry a moderate weight advantage into the cage. Rampage has been on a tear since signing with Bellator in 2013, scoring five straight wins including a tepid yet highly contested unanimous decision nod over Lawal in the Bellator 120 light heavyweight tournament finals.
In his recent run against bigger fighters, Lawal has implemented a patient, range-oriented game that has allowed him to outslick his opposition without taking excessive damage in return. And when things have gotten tough in the pockets, King Mo has resorted to falling back on his clinch strength to grind down his larger and less well-conditioned foes. Against Jackson he’s facing yet another heavy hitter who, at this point in his career, has slowed to the point where tagging Lawal is going to be a much harder task than it was the first time they fought. During the conference call building up to the show, Lawal promised to “hump (Rampage’s) leg for three round”; here’s hoping that his ego and fighting spirit (or Jackson’s additional girth at heavyweight) get in the way of this fight becoming a boring leanfest. The great news is that even if it isn’t the most thrilling fight, both men have the requisite power in their hands to turn a grinding outing into a lightning quick finish at any moment.
While Rampage was surprised (or maybe just acted the part) when informed that this bout was at heavyweight during the conference call, it’s worth noting that there are solid reasons to schedule this bout as a heavyweight contest. Beyond Matt Mitrione and Cheick Kongo, there’s relatively little substance at the top of the Bellator heavyweight ranks and an emphatic win from either King Mo or Rampage could put them at or near the head of the line for a title shot when Bellator re-activates the heavyweight belt later this year.
Old Wave and New Wave Clash in the Co-Main
Apologies for calling two-time former Bellator champion Marcos Galvao (18-7-1) “old” in the above headline, but at 35 years of age he’s approaching the point when most lower-weight fighters start to experience diminishing returns. On the plus side, skill ages more gracefully than speed and athleticism, and the fact that “Louro” has always been the sort of fighter who relies on high fight IQ and technique should help him keep contending at a high level for longer than most. Galvao missed the bantamweight limit in a split-decision win over L.C. Davis last time he took the cage in December, which has precipitated the veteran’s move up to featherweight following a 13 fight Bellator run at 135. Galvao will face a stiff entry exam for his new weight class in the form of 26 year old Roufusport all-arounder Emmanuel Sanchez (14-3), who has put together an impressive 6-2 run through the division’s 145 pound ranks including victories over Georgi Karakhanyan, Justin Lawrence, and Daniel Pineda. Sanchez’s only defeats in Bellator have come via close decisions to championship-level competitors Daniel Weichel and Pat Curran, so if Galvao can get past his far spryer foe then it will say a lot about his ability to contend with the top of the pack at featherweight. On the flip side this is a terrific opportunity for Sanchez to assert himself as an alpha dog in the division and set himself up as a contender for next shot at the winner of Daniel Straus vs. Patricio Pitbull 4 at Bellator 178.
Kharitonov Has a Second Chance at a First Impression in Bellator
When highly decorated Russian heavyweight veteran Sergei Kharitonov (23-6) was booked to face California regionals competitor Javy “Eye Candy” Ayala in his Bellator debut last November, some observers questioned the reasoning behind booking a long-time world ranked contender against a foe with no significant big fight experience. While Ayala ended up shocking Kharitonov and the entire MMA world with a 16 second one-punch knockout, the fact that Bellator has failed to follow up on Ayala’s momentum with another big fight (or even a Kharitonov rematch) has been a bit surprising. While Ayala still waits for his next bout assignment, this Friday the Russian will enjoy a second opportunity at wowing the Bellator card when he takes on longtime B-tier heavyweight talent Chase Gormley (14-5). While Gormley is almost certainly a more credentialed and skilled foe than Ayala on paper, his track record suggests that he’s unlikely to come forward at Kharitonov with hail Mary punches like Ayala did from the start of their contest. Unlike most members of the heavyweight class, Gormley tends to be a patient, defense-and-volume oriented fighter, though he showed a lot of holes in his defensive game in winning a questionable decision over Bobby “Zombie” Brents in his last fight at Bellator 162. Against Kharitonov, Gormley will need to show much sharper footwork and head movement than he has in recent outings or else he risks becoming another victim on the Golden Glory Fight Team rep’s impressive highlight reel.
Lahat Looks to Fulfill His Promise
Compared to most other ex-UFC fighters who carry a 2-2 record inside the Octagon, Noad Lahat’s (10-2) performance in the world’s biggest MMA show was generally pretty impressive. He managed to score back-to-back decision wins over top-notch opponents Steven Siler and Nicklas Backstrom, but those victories were bookended by a pair of highlight reel flying knee KO losses in very winnable fights against (arguably lower-level competition in) Godofredo Pepey and Diego Rivas. Lahat showed off his talent skills in his Bellator debut, easily taking out talented featherweight wrestler Scott Cleve with an RNC just under halfway through the first round of the Bellator 163 co-main event in his native Israel. The American Kickboxing Academy representative will be back stateside for this contest, as he does battle with Indiana-based striker Lloyd Carter (11-8). Carter has suffered five losses by submission, so don’t be shocked if this one ends early via tapout. At age 32, Lahat would be well served to take advantage of this showcase opportunity to vault into the featherweight mix with a resounding finish.
Plenty of Prospects Battling to Reach the Next Level
The remainder of the Bellator card is packed with fighters who have thrived on the regional scene and are looking to take the next step toward an opportunity against one of the promotion’s big name talents. Here are a few of the best bouts from the prelims:
– The most impressive prospect on the card is probably bantamweight Manny Vasquez (10-2), who will have the opportunity to wow his hometown Illinois crowd during his preliminary tussle opposite 41 fight Midwestern regional competitor Nate Williams (26-15). The 23 year old Vasquez’s crowning early-career achievement was his Legacy 51 bantamweight title victory over current UFC fighter Ricardo Ramos, which was a top-notch first round submission win that established Vasquez as a threat to elite level bantamweights. To Williams’ credit, he comes into this spotlight bout riding a four fight win streak against regional-level opposition.
– The main card will feature a 155 pound tussle between a pair of intriguing lightweight prospects in 27 year old Steve Kozola (7-0) and Missouri native Jake Roberts (7-1). Both men have notched notable wins early in their pro campaigns. Kozola recently TKOed both Stephen Martinez and former Bellator title contender Lloyd Woodard before falling by decision to Blackzilians wrestling standout Carrington Banks at Bellator 165. Kozola has yet to face quite the same level of competition as his once-defeated foe, but he has enjoyed the experience of scoring a trio of quick knockouts while going 2-0 on the Bellator prelims and 1-0 in WSOF. Both of these men will finally enjoy the main card opportunity that they’ve been looking forward to, and you’ll have to tune in to find who takes advantage of the chance to vault into the mix at 155.
– Dallas-based welterweight Justin “The Tactician” Patterson (9-2) has also enjoyed some success in the Bellator prelims, going 3-1 since hooking up with the promotion in late 2015. His most recent Bellator outing at the promotion’s last card in Oklahoma was also his most impressive, as he wore down fellow grappler Jason Witt over two rounds before blasting him with a wicked knockout punch just 13 seconds into round 3. Patterson faces another tough test along his path toward a main card opportunity when he faces Finney Hit Squad product Joaquin Buckley (6-1). The St. Louis native looked spectacular in his first Bellator bout at Bellator 157, as he smashed through ex-UFC middleweight Chris Heatherly with style points. But in his second outing at Bellator 164 in Israel he suffered a shocking first round TKO loss to undefeated local talent Jackie Gosh. Despite that setback, the hulking Buckley definitely has the athletic tools and coordination to make a splash at the top level if he can refining his skills. But will Buckley’s natural gifts prove to be enough against a tough, experienced, and talented technician like Patterson?
Learn the answers to these questions and more when Bellator 175 goes down this Friday 3/31/17 – prelims will be streaming online at 7 PM EST, while the main card be broadcast on Spike TV at 9 PM EST. And check back @CombatDocket for exclusive interviews with Emmanuel Sanchez and Noad Lahat later this week!